With the resignation of McComb’s city clerk, there aren’t many number crunchers left in city hall.
The city has had eight resignations, two terminations, five replacements and one employee quit without resignation. One employee was forced to resign and was later terminated, bring the total number of employees who left to 16 since 2018. Among them are two police chiefs, four city administrators, three comptrollers, two city judges, two city clerks, a chief financial officer, a board attorney, a public works director, a city prosecutor and a recreation director.
“In city hall we’ve had a constant turnover in key positions,” Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said. “The stability of city government, the foundation of our city government, cannot be functional with turnover in those three key positions — city administrator, city clerk and comptroller.”
Lockley has said the turnover in key positions has lead to many small issues growing much larger such as the two-year lag in audits of the city’s audits.
The board voted unanimously March 9 to advertise for the position of city administrator. Advertising ends in early April 15 and then the interviewing processs will begin. The city also began advertising for the position of city clerk,
Human Resources Director Donjurea Davis said the city has been seeking a replacement for former comptroller Zackery Fortenberry since he resigned in December, but she said there hasn’t been much luck.
“We are back to square one,” Davis said, noting that multiple applicants dropped out before the interview process.
Lockley said the turnover rate was a big issue for the city, noting that it is scaring off many qualified candidates for the city’s open positions. He said he personally spoke with many prospective comptrollers who told him they were afraid to get hired only to leave two months later.
“The environment at city hall — good, bad, negative or positive — I can say there are people who are qualified that don’t want to come work for the city because of the high turnover,” he said. “They have voiced that to me personally, especially qualified people for the comptroller position.”
He said another issue with the city administrator position was that many of the best qualified candidates who applied asked for six figure salaries, and the city could not swing that much money for the position.
“I reported that to the board, and I was given a lesser salary that I could negotiate up to, so therefore, I could not recommend to the board the best qualified persons,” Lockley said.
Lockley would not say on the record why he believed the city’s turnover rate was so high, only that the board needed to work together to bring qualified employees into their top positions.
“To fix this would require the board and the mayor to understand their roles, their duties and their responsiblities,” Lockley said. “I know my role and I can play my role, and I can play it very, very well, but I need everyone else to understand what their role is.”
Nacole Garner, who was in a dual role as clerk and CFO, officially left the position on March 26, taking a position as office manager for the fire department and leaving officials to lean on the city’s three deputy clerks. But Lockley said that creates another problem for the city in that without a full-time city clerk, there are some functions the city cannot do, such as write checks and transfer money to certain accounts.
The board previously voted to appoint an interim city clerk, but that was rescinded a week later when Selectman Devante Johnson and Ronnie Brock called a special meeting which also included rescinding the decision to have the mayor serve as city administrator, leaving no one in any key position within city hall’s administrative operations.
On top of the turnovers, the city has had to fight off multiple lawsuits and complaints from former employees. Former Public Works Director Chuck Lambert filed both a lawsuit and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the city.
All former employes who were contacted by the Enterprise-Journal refused to comment on their situations on the record. Former city judge Brandon Frazier, who was in that position or its backup role for 11 years, said he was “ready to go in a different direction.”
Frazier did note that he was not averse to working in his former capacity as judge in the future.
Former comptroller Zackery Fortenberry declined to comment, but his time at city hall did come with its own issues. During the city’s 2018 audit discussions last year, Fortenberry butted heads with Selectman Michael Cameron during a meeting, leading the mayor to chide him for interjections and raised voices.